For the past 13 years the Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless Foundation has offered hot meals, warm showers, haircuts and toiletries to nearly 20,000 people every Thanksgiving Day at Turner Field.
However, Elizabeth Omilami said the foundation was forced to find a new location this year after the Atlanta Braves organization decided “to go in a different direction.” Soon, they found themselves working with another local sports team, the Atlanta Falcons.
“The main difference was that Turner Field was free but the Georgia World Congress Center is charging us $20,000 just for the day,” Omilami said.
Omilami said that Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons and the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, suggested the World Congress Center and offered to pay the rental fee for Thanksgiving Day.
Hosea Feed the Homeless began in 1971, when Rev. Hosea Williams fed the first 100 men who approached a table he had set up on Auburn Avenue. Since then, Omilami said the foundation has grown immensely.
When it first started, Omilami said Williams offered the men more than just a turkey dinner. She said there was a medical clinic on-site, hot showers, barbers and beauticians, among other things.
“He started with Thanksgiving then added Christmas and Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” Omilami said. “So, what we like to call it is a holiday series event.”
On Nov. 8, 2,000 turkeys arrived at the DeKalb County Jail, which has been the storage place for the turkeys for decades. Omilami said the night before Thanksgiving Day 300 volunteers arrive at the jail to prepare the food from 6 p.m. to midnight.
“[The food] is then packed onto a tractor trailer that takes it to the Georgia World Congress Center. Throughout the day approximately 1,300 volunteers work in shifts to serve the food,” Omilami said.
The turkeys were donated from Publix, Kroger, Sodexo and Aarons. Omilami said they usually cook anywhere from 700 to 1,000 turkeys per event.
Omilami said in the past during the Thanksgiving Day event, the foundation usually invited ministers from local churches to speak on a large stage. However, this year the organization will do something different—each table has a host from a local church.
“These table hosts will sit at the table with the guests and engage them in conversation, then we’ll take that information and follow up with them,” Omilami said.
For Omilami, the dinners are just a small part of the foundation’s mission to serve the metro Atlanta area. She said many of the people who attend the events aren’t homeless but rather working poor, who can’t afford a Thanksgiving feast at home.
“The numbers are growing rapidly and we serve over 900 families from DeKalb County alone that come to us weekly for assistance,” Omilami said. “Hosea is carrying a great weight right now and all the needs are so great. We’re doing everything we can to fill that need.”